"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, January 27, 2019

My 2019 Plans

My plans for this year will be humble, not because I don’t plan to read much but I don’t plan to plan much.

The reads I know I’m reading include the last canticle of Dante’s Divine Comedy, his journey through heave, Paradisio.  And as last year with Inferno and Purgatorio, I will be reading two different translations, the Hollander and Hollander husband and wife team (the translation I consider the best) and the Anthony Esolen, which is also very good.  I’m reading two translations to absorb it better and bounce one off the other.  We are reading Paradisio for the Catholic Thought Book Club at Goodreads.  By the way, the book club would love to have you, so come on over.  ;)

Once we are done with Dante, the book club’s next read will be The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.  This will be a re-read for me and I know I posted my thoughts here at my blog several years ago when I first read it.  I wonder if my thoughts on it will change.

For my parish Bible study—they just call it that, but as you can see we read other works—we are reading Mike Aqulina’s The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers.  It’s a survey book of most of the church fathers.

Also on the read list will be the next novels in a series I’ve been reading through.  One series is Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End, centered on the main character, Christopher Tietjens, and his World War I experiences.  I am up to the last novel of the series, Last Post.  There is also the final volume of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  The huge epic is made up of five volumes in which I treat each volume as a novel.  The fifth volume is called, “Jean Valjean.”  I’ll be continuing in the C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia series.  I’m up to the third book when considered chronologically, The Horse and His Boy

Of course I’m continuing my read through the Bible.  I’m up to the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, and all the short letters in the New Testament: Letter of James, First and Second Letters of Peter, First, Second, and Third Letters of John, and the Letter of Jude.  As usual I will be reading both the KJV and NIV translations.

I have to pick up on the series of short stories I have lapsed in keeping the last few years.  I’ve been trying to go through the complete short stories of Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, and Evelyn Waugh.  And I’ll try to sporadically and randomly add short stories as they pique my interest.  I doubt I can get back to two per month, but I’ll do the best I can.

And that’s it as far as plans.  I’ve created two groups of books here below, books “On Pause” and a books “Wish List.” I’m tired of just saying I will eventually read books I haven’t completed.  So now I will list those books as “on pause.”  They are books I’ve started but have stopped reading and that I still want to finish.  And then there is a wish list of books that I may squeeze in this year if the opportunity and time allows.  You can see what is on both lists.

Perhaps some other book jumps up at me creaming to be read—that happens all the time—and I will alter my plans.  I know I will also be reading a couple of more books for the Catholic Thought Book Club, we just don’t know what they are yet.  They have not been voted on.

With that, Happy belated New Year and see you at the library.  ;)

Completed First Quarter:

“The Background,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“How to Mark a Book,” an essay by Mortimer J. Adler.

Currently Reading:
Paradisio, 3rd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
Paradisio, 3rd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esolen.
The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, 3rd Edition, a non-fiction work by Mike Aquilina.
"Why Bugsy Siegel Was a Friend of Mine," a short story by James Lee Burke. 

Upcoming Plans:
Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Old Testament, NIV Translation.
“The Light of the World,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“God Rest You Merry Gentleman,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Sea Change,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“A Matter of Chance,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
The Imitation of Christ, a non-fiction devotional by Thomas à Kempis.
“The Manager of ‘The Kremlin,’” a short story by Evelyn Waugh.

On Pause:
Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Virgin and the Gipsy, a short novel by D. H. Lawrence.
Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, a collection translated and edited by Mark Atherton.
Fra Angelico (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series), a non-fiction work on art by Laurence Kanter, Pia Palladino, and others.
The Life of Saint Dominic, a biography by Augusta Theodosia Drane.

Wish List:
Think Like A Cat, a non-fiction help book by Johnson-Bennett.
The Remains of the Day, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The Red and the Black, a novel by Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle).
Notes From Underground, a novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Crazy in Berlin, a novel by Thomas Berger.
The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose a book of poetry and essays by T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Rainey (ed).
Henry VI, Part 2, a play by William Shakespeare.
Submission, a novel by Michel Houellebecq.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn, Part 2

This is my second post on Scott Hahn’s book, Joy to the World.  You can find Part 1 here 
Part 1 addresses chapters 1 thru 4.
Part 2 addresses chapter 5 thru 7.


Chapter 5: “Mary: Cause of Our Joy”
Hahn provides a historical and theological justification for the Virgin Birth, for Mary’s role in salvation history and her continued importance in our lives as Christians.

Chapter 6: “Silent Knight, Holy Knight”
Hahn shows the importance and significance of Joseph’s fatherhood to Christ.

Chapter 7: “Angels: Echoing Their Joyous Strains”
Throughout the Christmas story, angels supply guidance, wisdom, prayer, and protection, and the holy family is open to it.


Hahn seems to think the “most controversial aspect” of Mary is her virginity.  Would that be because of her conceiving a child without “knowing man” or that it would be unlikely she maintained her virginity throughout her life?  Neither strike me as that controversial in my mind.  I think this is the key passage regarding her virginity.  Hahn is looking at the Isaiah prophecy of a "virgin" bearing a son.

We cannot read Isaiah’s mind, but we can read his context. The passage opens with the challenge: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isaiah 7:11). He seems to be talking about a momentous sign, something indisputably miraculous. A virgin bearing a son would indeed be such a singular event. A “young woman” bearing a son would be unremarkable and underwhelming, as signs go.

Thus we can probably trust the authority of the Septuagint—which enjoyed a semi-official status in the Jewish diaspora and was uninfluenced by later Christian-Jewish disputes.

Mary’s virginal motherhood is a sign. It is not, however, a statement against the goodness of sex, as some heretics later claimed it was. It is rather a guarantee of God’s fatherhood—God is the only possible father of Jesus—and at the same time it is recognition of Mary’s special status as the mother of the Messiah. She was, as such, a vessel of the divine. Her body was, in a sense, like the golden vessels dedicated for Temple service. It was forbidden to use such chalices and plates at even the most dignified royal banquet. Likewise, her womb, having borne the Savior, could not return to ordinary activity, no matter how good, no matter how blessed.

Her perpetual virginity was fitting and proper to her unique role in the history of salvation. It is interesting to note that for the early Christians she was “the Virgin”—as if she had a special claim on the noun and required the definite article. It is the same grammatical construction found in the earliest Hebrew manuscripts of Isaiah 7:14. (p. 56-7)

That is an interesting comparison, Mary’s body as holy chalices and plates.  Knowing what I know of Judaism strict dietary and purity laws, that comparison is perfect. 

But was Mary’s virginity chosen? Had she already committed her life to God before the angel visited her? Mary’s dialogue with the angel is indeed curious. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26–35) A more literal rendering of Mary’s question would be: “How shall this be, since I do not know man?” “To know” is the common Hebrew idiom for sexual union. In the book of Genesis we read: “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.… Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth” (Genesis 4:17, 25). Still today we use the phrase “carnal knowledge” as a kind of polite phrase for sexual intercourse. The connection between “knowing” and “conception” was clear in the Torah as it was in life. So what could Mary have meant by her question? The angel had told her she would conceive a son, and she did not understand how that could be. She had not carried out what she knew to be the requisite act for pregnancy. It’s not that Mary was ignorant of the facts of life. She genuinely wanted to know how the angel Gabriel’s announcement could be true. Reading this passage, Saint Augustine noted: “Surely she would not have said this unless she had already vowed herself to God as a virgin.… Certainly she would not have asked, how, being a female, she should give birth to her promised son, if she had married with the purpose of sexual intercourse.”4 According to Christian tradition, Mary remained perpetually a virgin—before Jesus’s birth and after. Even before his conception, she may have discerned a special call to consecrated virginity. We have already seen that such commitments, though rare in Judaism, had ample precedent.


I found this passage incredibly insightful on St. Joseph’s fatherhood.

Joseph’s vocation is to be an earthly image of Jesus’s heavenly Father.  God is more Father than any man on earth, though he fathers without gender, without body, without sexual organs or a sexual act, and without a spouse.  God’s fatherhood is not primarily physical, but rather spiritual.  The fatherhood of Joseph is spiritual and real, though virginal, just as the fatherhood of God is spiritual and nonphysical.

Saint Joseph then serves, then, as an icon of God the Father, and even Jesus would have thought of him in that way… (p. 69-70)

One certainly realizes that St. Joseph is Jesus’ foster father, but in being a non-bearing father he emulates God’s Fatherhood to us all.  What’s also fascinating is that studies show that it’s the father’s faith in a family that tends to get passed onto the children.  If the father of a family is devout, the children have a much higher chance of retaining the faith, especially the sons.  So this notion of the father as being an icon of God the Father is important to all our lives.


I was really surprised to find three theories as to why Joseph decides to divorce Mary.  (1) The suspicion theory: Joseph suspects Mary of adultery. (2) The perplexity theory: Joseph couldn’t figure out how Mary got pregnant but couldn’t attribute adultery. (3) The reverence theory: Joseph knew of the Holy Spirit’s impregnating her and didn’t consider himself worthy.  Hahn finds the third theory the most satisfying. 

I had never heard of the other two theories, and I don’t find the perplexity and reverence theories all that plausible.  The support for those theories is rather tenuous.  The suspicion theory is the only one that seems to fit.  Anyone think differently? 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sights and Sounds of 2019 March for Life

Just wanted to share some pictures and movie clips I took at the 2019 March for Life this past Friday, the 18th.  It was a real long day.  I left my house at 6 AM to meet to meet at a local church.  A quick early morning Mass at 6:30 and we were on the bus and off by 7:15.  The bus pulled into RFK stadium parking lot around 12:30.  A bathroom break, a walk to the Metro station, a subway ride to the Mall, and we joined the March by one thirty.  We were not there for the speeches.  We would have to leave the night before to make that.

Here’s a small part of my group trying to gather together before we enter the March.  You want to try to keep the group together so it’s easier to regroup to get back, but really that’s a near impossible effort.  Just casually walking I found myself split away.  As you can see, there was a dusting of snow from overnight.

Our group must have been somewhere in the middle of the procession.  Here’s a picture ahead of us.

Hard to get a picture of the breath and scope of the crowd, but here’s one that shows the width.

Here’s some movie clips.  The college kids were the most vocal, so I made my way into their group to capture these clips.  I think they were from Illinois.

The High School kids were more reserved.  Here’s a group being led in a rosary prayer.

Since I’ve been going it has been a predominantly Catholic gathering and this year seemed more so than usual.  I usually see more Protestant denominations but this year I only caught a couple of Lutheran signs and a Focus on the Family sign, which I assume is Evangelical.  Of course this could just be my perception being limited to a particular section of the procession.
But the signs were great.  Here’s a few that caught my attention.

There were little musical groups along the way.  I was able to film this Pipes and Drums band.

When we got up on Capitol Hill, I could turn around and see how far back the procession went.  Here are a couple of pictures.

That goes pretty far back, and we were in the middle, so similar up ahead.  I don’t know how to estimate crowds, but that is a lot of people.

Finally I want to end with this picture.  This was a group of about a dozen, and at first I thought this was the flag of the Red Cross.  Silly me, I then realized it was the Swiss flag.

I asked a woman who was part of the group if they had come all the way from Switzerland for this, and she responded she had.  And then she said something I will never forget, and later upon reflect it brought a tear to my eye.  She said with a smile in her Germanic accent, “You are an inspiration to us.”  By “you” I took it she meant the pro-life movement in America.  I realized then how across the western world, abortion is the norm and whatever pro-life movements there may be are truly small and defanged.  We are what stand in the way from the barbarity of the innocent slaughter.  To quote Ronald Reagan, “This is the last stand on Earth.”

Back in the bus and on the way home by five.

Home around 11 PM.  A tiring seventeen hour day.  God bless all those hearty souls.  God protect the unborn.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn, Part 1

Leading into to Christmas, the Catholic Thought Book Club selected and read Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn.  It proved to be a wonderful selection as a Christmas read.  I’m going to post a series derived from my summaries and comments from the discussion.

If by any chance you don’t know who Scott Hahn is, you can read about him here.  He is probably the most important Catholic convert from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism in the last fifty to a hundred years.  He started out as a Presbyterian minister and PhD theologian but as he explored the roots of Christianity was shocked to find the truth in Roman Catholicism, both from a historical point of view and a Biblical point of view.  His conversion story went viral through recordings of his speeches, his conversion story, Rome, Sweet Rome, and finally through the internet.  Do a YouTube search of Scott Hahn and you will find his conversion story.  From his conversion story, a slew of Protestants have followed suit, including many Protestant clergy.  You can find him on many theological discussions on EWTN and he teaches at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  He has gone on to write many books on the faith.  He has a remarkable ability to find eye opening theological insights, in many ways like Pope Benedict XVI, but still be able to communicate them to the laity.  Joy to the World is a great place to start with a Scott Hahn book.


Chapter 1: “A Light Goes On In Bethlehem”
Using his daughter’s love of children, Hahn locates the Christmas story as wrapped in the human institution of the family.

Chapter 2: “What Happens in Bethlehem…”
Hahn provides the justification that the Gospel’s recounting of Jesus’ birth is history and not fable or folklore.

Chapter 3: “A New Genesis”
Hahn distinguishes the different objectives between Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, especially considering the differences in genealogies. 

Chapter 4: “The Counterfeit Kingdom”
Hahn details the expectations at the time of the imminent coming of the Messiah. 


How unexpected to start the Christmas story with Hahn’s twelve year old daughter, having a baby placed in her arms.

Yet that young woman, long centuries ago, found fulfillment in Bethlehem—in a baby placed in her arms. Everyone who saw her remembered her radiance, and after two thousand years we still remember it.

Looking at Hannah as she looked at those babies, I could understand why.

The effect on Hannah was long-lasting. She was changed—visibly changed and inwardly transformed. You could see it in her face and in her deeds. Months later, she organized a fund-raiser to send clothes to “her orphans” in Bethlehem. She had undergone a spiritual awakening, but still more than that. It was a kind of maternal awakening—a coming of age—a transition from being a little kid to caring for little kids.

I’m just curious.  Since we have so many women in this book club, do any of you remember the first time an infant was placed in your arms and did it have some maternal effect on you?


Great comments all. Nadine, I may have once known about the genealogy differences but I had long forgotten what the differences were.

And Scott Hahn is very big on the family dimension of Christianity. It did not surprise me that he would expand on it here,

As to the Holy Family, I keep a small medal of the Holy Family on my neck chain, along with a crucifix and another of St. Catherine of Siena, who I consider my patron saint. But the Holy Family is special to me. My wife and I adopted our only child, a son, late in life. So we are father, mother, son, a mirror of the Holy Family.


Hahn finds it important—and rightly so—to emphasize in chapter two that the events narrated in the Gospels are true fact, historical fact, not some fable or folklore.

Though the Gospel is certainly rich in allegorical meaning, it is first of all history. If there is allegory in the infancy narratives, it is fashioned by God, and not simply with words, but rather with creation itself—with the very deeds of sacred history. God writes the world the way human authors write words. Spiritual truths are everywhere to be found in the events at the beginning of the Gospels, but the events are nonetheless real and nonetheless important. They are no less historical for being extraordinary. To invoke Pope Benedict again: “If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God. But he does have this power.”6 And so he can (and has) guided history and creation, just as he guided the prophets, to tell his story.  (p. 20)

If these events are only fable, then it is meaningless.  That sort of skepticism is what has caused western culture to lose faith in God.  What separates Christianity from any religion that I can think of is the incarnation of God into man for the salvation of mankind. 


In chapter three I think Hahn makes what might be the most important point of the book.  Hahn points out that through the genealogy, St. Matthew is joining with St. John in the fourth Gospel that Christ’s arrival is a reformulation of genesis.

Saint Matthew’s first readers knew nothing of the field of genetics, but the title spoke still more loudly to them. To those first readers, the evangelist was suggesting a new Genesis, an account of the new creation brought about by Jesus Christ. In the fourth Gospel, Saint John accomplishes something similar when he begins by echoing the first words of the Torah: “In the beginning” (John 1:1; see Genesis 1:1). Saint Matthew introduces the same theme, though in a different way. The message in both is clear: with the arrival of Jesus, God brings about a new beginning, a new creation, a new Torah, and a New Testament. (p.24)

Christ’s birth is monumental.  It is the incarnational entrance of God into world, the one and only time in human history.  And with Christ’s entrance, the world is renewed.  The fall from Eden will be reversed. That is the reason for our joy, which is reflected in the book’s title.  That is why we celebrate Christmas.   

Sunday, January 13, 2019

My 2018 Reads

Typically I have an initial post at the beginning of the year on the upcoming plans for the year, and then I post an update at the end of each quarter with the fourth quarter being the conclusion of the year’s reads.  This year I had that initial post in January and a first quarter update, and then I abandoned my poor blog readers without an update the rest of the year.  I apologize, and if you thought I had given up on reading, you were mistaken.  Anyway, you can tell by my posts throughout the year I was certainly reading.  Here is the final quarter’s update which summarizes my reads for 2018.  First a listing of what I read by quarter, and then I’ll break it down in a summary.

Completed First Quarter:

From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God, a confessional memoir by Derya Little.
The Inferno, 1st part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
The Inferno, 1st part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esloen.
"Behind the Veil," a short story by Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub, translated by S. Al-Bazzazz. 
The Way of the Cross, a non-fiction devotional by Caryll Houselander.
A Man Could Stand Up, the 3rd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
The Magician’s Nephew, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.
“The Call of the Cthulhu,” a short story by H. P. Lovecraft.
“Hard Times,” a short story by Ron Rash.

 Completed Second Quarter:

“The Dead,” a short story by James Joyce.
“Arrangement in Black and White,” a short story by Dorothy Parker.
Humanae Vitae, a Papal Encyclical by Pope Paul VI.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of the Old Testament, KJV translation.
The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, a non-fiction work of theology by Robert Cardinal Sarah.

Completed Third Quarter:

The Everlasting Man, a non-fiction book of Christian apologetics by G. K. Chesterton.
 “Flowering Judas,” a short story by Katherine Ann Porter. 
Purgatorio, 2nd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
Purgatorio, 2nd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esolen.

Completed Fourth Quarter:

“Letter to the Corinthians,” a papal epistle from Pope Clement I.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of the Old Testament, RSV (Catholic Edition) Translations.
Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics, a non-fiction book by Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer.
Confessions of a Convert, a non-fiction memoir by Robert Hugh Benson.
Not All of Me is Dust, a novel by Frances Maureen Richardson.
Blood Pressure Down: The-10 Step to Lower Your Blood Pressure in 10 Weeks—Without Prescription Drugs, a self-help, non-fiction book by Dr. Janet Bond Brill. 
The Gospel of Luke, a book of the New Testament, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.
The Letter to the Hebrews, an epistle in the New Testament attributed to St. Paul, KJV and RSV (Ignatius) translations.
Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does), a non-fiction work on Christian theology by Scott Hahn.
Vol 4 of Les Misérables, “Saint-Denis, the Idyll in the Rue Plumet, and the Epic in the Rue Saint-Denis” a novel by Victor Hugo.

Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Virgin and the Gipsy, a short novel by D. H. Lawrence.
Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, a collection translated and edited by Mark Atherton.
Fra Angelico (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series), a non-fiction work on art by Laurence Kanter, Pia Palladino, and others.
The Life of Saint Dominic, a biography by Augusta Theodosia Drane.
The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, 3rd Edition, a non-fiction work by Mike Aquilina.

As you can see, being the moderator of the Catholic Thought Book Club at Goodreads shapes my reading list.  I would say that more than half—perhaps three quarters—is determined by the book club selection, and since I’m moderator I can’t really opt out of a read.  The readings break down in the following manner.  Nine works of fiction, eight works of non-fiction, only six short stories, five books from the Bible, and two papal documents.  Let’s take the categories individually. 

In the nine works of fiction, I include two individual canticles of Dante’s Divine Comedy separately.  It is a poetic epic, but I count it as fiction because it is narrative in nature, and I count the canticles (Inferno and Purgatorio) as separate works.  Each are book length.  Also I count the two different translations (Hollander and Hollander and Esolen) separately since I read them both.  In all four of the nine works stemmed from Dante.  As you may know I’ve been reading Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy of novels set during World War I collected under the title Parade’s End.  This year I read the third of the four, A Man Could Stand Up.  One more to go.  In that vein, the last few years I’ve been reading the over 1200 page epic Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.  Because of its length I’ve been reading annually one of the five volumes and counting each as a novel.  This year I read the fourth volume, “Saint-Denis, the Idyll in the Rue Plumet, and the Epic in the Rue Saint-Denis.”  One more year to go on this too.  I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia series with my son.  This year we read the first two, The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  They are delightful and frankly not just for children.  Finally, I read Not All of Me is Dust, a novel written by an incredibly nice woman I met in my Catholic Thought Book Club at Goodreads, Frances Maureen Richardson.  I would classify this as a Catholic novel since the faith of the characters is at the center of each of their lives, but it is way more than that.  It’s a journey through the second half of the 20th century with its declining faith and one person whose example stands against it.  I haven’t posted on this novel here yet, but I intend to do so.

Seven of the eight non-fiction works have a theological element to them.  Two of the books I would classify as confessional memoirs.  They are autobiographic and focus on a particular element of their lives.  Both books were religious conversion stories.  Derya Little’s From Islam to Christ tells of her conversion from growing up with Islam in Turkey and becoming Roman Catholic.  Robert Hugh Benson’s Confessions of a Convert also speaks of a conversion to Roman Catholicism, he being an Anglican priest and son of an Anglican Archbishop at the turn of the end of the 19th century.  Both took the reader through their theological reasoning and personal emotions.  Four of the non-fiction books were theological discourses.  Robert Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence discussed the need for silence as a means to communicate and understand God.  G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man identified the importance of man and Christ in the shaping of human and salvation history.  In Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics, Daniel Ali—also a convert to Catholicism—provided a handbook of the differences between the two religions.  Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World provided a wonderful exegesis to the Christmas narrative.  The final non-fiction was a self-help book by Dr. Janet Bond Brill, Blood Pressure Down on how to lower one’s blood pressure, as the title states.  It’s becoming an issue for me.

I only read five short stories this past year as opposed to my usual twenty-four.  Actually last year I only read eighteen, so my trend is toward fewer short stories.  That’s a shame because I get so much diversity from reading so many different writers.  I need to try to do better on that.  With only six, I won’t go through a whole lot on what I thought of them.  I’ll just rate them as exceptional, good, ordinary, and duds.  “Behind the Veil” by Iraqi writer Dhu’l Nun Ayyoub, was ordinary.  “The Call of the Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft was also ordinary.  “Hard Times” by Ron Rash was good.  “The Dead” by James Joyce was exceptional.  “Arrangement in Black and White” by Dorothy Parker was a dud.  “Flowering Judas” by Katherine Ann Parker was good.  So the winner of the best of the short stories read this year is James Joyce’s “The Dead,” a classic and one of the best works Joyce wrote.

I read five books out of the Bible this year.  I am counting The Book of Isaiah and The Letter to the Hebrews twice each because of two different translations.  As those who have read my blog may know, I am trying to read through the Bible both in King James Translation (to get a feel for the English language of the time) and a contemporary Catholic translation (to get the most comprehension of the work).  The fifth work from the Bible read this year was The Gospel of Luke and since I had read this before I only read it in RSV translation.  We are in the C lectionary year for readings at Mass, which means the predominant Gospel readings will come from Luke.  So the book club read the entire Gospel up front as a way to prepare us for this year’s readings.  We did this last year with the Gospel of Mark.

The book club also read two papal documents.  We read Humanae Vitae, a papal encyclical which had reached its fifty year anniversary, from Pope Paul VI.  The book club also read the Letter to the Corinthians by church father Pope Clement I.  Pope Clement I was the fourth Bishop of Rome and held office from 88 to 99 AD.  

On the list of currently reading but unfinished are three reads from the past I have not gone back to this year: Goldworthy’s Julius Caesar, Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gypsy, and the selected writings of Hildgard of Bingen.  The art book on Fra Angelico’s work and the biography of St. Dominic were added this year, and every so often I will read a few pages.  Also added was Mike Aquilina’s The Fathers of the Church, which is a survey book of good portion of the church fathers.  This is a book we’re reading at my parish Bible study this year.

As you can see, almost everything I read these days is related to Catholicism in some way. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Gospel of Luke: Comments and Observations, Part III

This is my final post on this read of Luke’s Gospel.  The previous two posts can be found here and here

On this post I turn my attention to chapter ten and break it down in detail.

I think chapter ten in Luke is another remarkable chapter.  It starts off with Christ sending off seventy (or seventy-two in some versions) disciples to preach and convert.  Let's look at His send off in more detail.

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy [-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. 2 He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. 3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.

Why is He sending them like lambs to wolves?  Why no money or sack or sandals?  I guess it builds a trust in the Lord.  But why "greet no one along the way?"  That I find puzzling, especially since further down they are to go into houses of people.

5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.' 6 If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another.

Obviously the disciples are very active in this ministry, apparently working as well as preaching.  The word "peace" here carries more than the definition allows.  It carries a spiritual connectation, like a blessing.  [Side note: I love signing off notes with "peace."  It's almost like I'm blessing the person I'm writing to.  But I never thought about that peace returning to me if it doesn't settle on that person.]

And then Jesus comes to what I think is significant:

8 Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, 9 cure the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God is at hand for you.'

So the ministry is to work to help the community, preach, and cure the sick.  This is bringing "The Kingdom of God" here to Earth.  Luke more than any of the other Gospels seems to be concerned with the Kingdom of God on Earth.  Look at all the references: Luke 4:43, Luke 6:20, Luke 9:62, Luke 13:18-19, Luke 13:28, Luke 14:15, Luke 17:21, Luke 18:17, Luke 18:24-25, Luke 19:11, Luke 21:31.  Yes, the kingdom is also in heaven, but 17:20-21 makes clear:

20 Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, "The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, 21 and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or, 'There it is.' For behold, the kingdom of God is among you."

Yes, there is a metaphysical element to it, but our work here on Earth is bringing the kingdom of God to fruition.  Now back to chapter ten, Jesus gets perturbed with the unrepentant.

10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, 11 'The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.' Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.

The next passage in the chapter (verses 13-16) Jesus continues on the unrepentant motif, but the passage after that the disciples come back with joy.

17 The seventy [-two] returned rejoicing, and said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." 18 Jesus said, "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. 19 Behold, I have given you the power 'to tread upon serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

Their success is like casting Satan out of heaven.  Their success in bringing the kingdom of heaven to Earth brings them to heaven.  The next passage Jesus rejoices,

21 At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit and said, "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and Earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

And further:

23 Turning to the disciples in private he said, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."

The disciples have seen the Kingdom by working to bring it to Earth, and they have been blessed for it.  And then Jesus recounts to a lawyer the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which I don't need to quote.  It is a dramatization of what the Kingdom of God should look like on Earth.  It is the neighbor working to help the other, showing mercy to all.  And Jesus concludes that with "Go and do likewise."  Go and do likewise is a commandment to actively create the kingdom of God here on Earth.  This Protestant notion of "by faith alone" is nowhere substantiated in the Gospels.

And then Luke completely blows me away by concluding chapter ten with Jesus' visit to Mary and Martha, the famous dichotomy between the active and contemplative life.  Notice that Jesus enters a house just like he had his disciples enter at the beginning of the chapter.  Martha is caught up with serving the guests and complains that Mary is a slacker because she just sits listening to Jesus.  And Jesus seems to be rebuking Martha while upholding Mary.  So after this entire chapter of raising the active work of bringing the Kingdom to Earth, does Luke undermine his own argument with the opposite theme? 

Meister Eckhart, the great German, Dominican mystic, had a different take on this scene.  Remember Dominicans have the calling to be both active and contemplative, breathing with two lungs.  Eckhart believed that Jesus wasn't so much praising Mary, but acknowledging her limitations.  This was the best that Mary could do.  But Martha has the ability to do both.  Eckhart's reading seems like a bit of a stretch, and it's not one you will typically get in a homily.  But look carefully.  Christ is not rebuking Martha for being active.  He is rebuking her for being anxious and upset.  Martha is not at peace.  She doesn't have the "peace" that is mentioned earlier in the chapter, that the disciples are supposed to cast on those they minister. 

I don’t know if I’d make a good theologian—I only play one on the internet—but I think this was one of my better readings.  Feel free to disagree.  :)